Tsinoy Beats and Bytes

Are we willing to sacrifice our humanity?

While still abroad, news that I get from the Philippines are still predominantly on the spate of extrajudicial and vigilante killings in the war on drugs.

The public, long despairing of seeing an end to heinous crimes, majority of which are committed by drug-crazed people, are lauding President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine National Police for finding what they think is an effective solution to the drug problem.

“If they harm only themselves by taking drugs, I couldn’t care less. But, sadly, they don’t kill just themselves but others too. Better if you just wipe them off the face of the earth,” a friend, whose daughter died in a car accident caused by a drug user, said.

However, people disturbed by the extrajudicial killings warn: “Wait ‘til a loved one or a friend falls prey to mistaken identity, overzealous policemen, business rivals who take the law into their own hands in these days of ‘free-for-all’ license to kill.”

Police call these accidental killings collateral damage.

Collateral damage

An anti-crime advocate brought to my attention the recent raid on a plastics factory, where four people were arrested and chemicals worth millions of pesos confiscated.

But he said, “There were no precursors for the manufacture of shabu found in the factory premises, only chemicals for use in the factory.”

The owner reportedly has gotten bank loans for his business. He voluntarily went to the factory knowing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency operatives were there.

His workers ask if that is the action of someone involved in drugs. They fear that the owner, detained for two weeks now, may get so frustrated he would close the factory.

The advocate is afraid to bring the case for redress lest he be accused of protecting people involved in drugs. But I told him that if he is sure of his facts, then he should help. I am abroad and am in no position to help. I have no way of verifying the information or bringing it to the higher-ups.

The point is, what if the four who were arrested were summarily executed on mere suspicion or false information that the factory is involved in the manufacture of drugs?

Crisis of inhumanity

It is much welcome news that Senators Leila de Lima, chair of the Senate justice and human rights committee, and Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate public order and illegal drugs committee, have called for a joint Senate probe on the spate of extrajudicial killings.

I am surprised, though, that Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is opposed to the probe. Cayetano rebutted De Lima, saying the police deserve to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. He said the police may have observed regularity in the performance of their duty when they killed the suspects. Does Cayetano honestly believe that when killings number 23 or more a day?

And how about the innocent victims killed in the drug war? These are human lives that cannot be simply dismissed as collateral damage.

True, there is a crisis – the real and present danger posed by the illegal drug trade and drug-related crimes. Most scary to citizens is the danger posed by drug syndicates and drug money that have insinuated itself in every sinew of society, including our public officials and public institutions.

In her privilege speech, De Lima acknowledged the country as being under the threat of illegal drugs. She also acknowledged the overwhelming voice of the people who placed the anti-drug crusading Duterte in the presidency.

But De Lima decried the daily fare of “cardboard justice” that has gone berserk.

She cautioned the President: “Impunity, once unleashed, has no boundaries. It does not care who dies. It does not care who suffers. It does not care who the victims are. Impunity has no sense of right or wrong. It is as amoral as it is immoral. The day has already come when we can no longer tell who is morally wrong among us: the nine-year-old street child sniffing rugby, or the policeman who shoots the child in the head for sniffing rugby.”

There is no doubt that De Lima and Lacson fully support the war on drugs, and both sincerely desire the success of the President and the PNP’s relentless and sustained campaign to rid the country of the drug menace. But De Lima was right in pointing out that there has to be another way to do it than cardboard justice.

Truly, until and unless the government finds another way, we “have just traded the drug crisis with another one: The crisis of our failed humanity as a nation.”

In the campaign against criminality, we cannot applaud criminal methods merely because we are left unaffected. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 5 (August 9-22, 2016): 5.